Itchy, painful skin is a common reason why cats are brought to see our Santa Clarita vets. So, today our veterinary team discusses some of the most common causes of skin allergies in cats and how each type of cat skin allergy can be treated.
An allergic reaction is an overreaction or hypersensitivity of the immune system to a particular substance. A substance that causes an allergic reaction is called an allergen. Some common allergens in humans include food, pollen, dander, and mold.
Types of Allergies
An allergic reaction to a substance can lead to 3 general types of symptoms:
- Skin - Itching of the skin, either in a specific spot or more generalized all over your cat's body.
- Respiratory - Coughing, sneezing, and wheezing, and other respiratory issues including discharge from the nose or eyes.
- Gastrointestinal - The third manifestation involves the digestive system and can result in vomiting, flatulence, and/or diarrhea.
These different reactions are caused by different types of allergins; parasites that live in or on the cat's body, allergins that cause a reaction upon contact, allergins that are ingested, and allergens that are inhaled.
Below, we look at different causes of skin allergies in cats, the associated symptoms and how they can be treated.
Cat Skin Allergy Causes & Treatments
When it comes to cat allergy skin rashes and other uncomfortable symptoms, the allergins causing the issue will either be parasites, food allergies, or environmental allergies.
While not particularly common, contact allergies can occur in some cats leading to patches of irritated skin wherever the allergin has come in direct contact with the cat's body. Common contact allergens include flea collars, shampoos, and various materials that make up bedding etc. While it can be challenging to pinpoint the precise cause of your cat's allergy it's worth the effort since removing or simply not using the allergin will clear up your cat's symptoms quickly and easily.
Parasitic Allergies - Fleas
Contrary to popular belief, not all cats will scratch wildly when bitten by a flea. In many cases, a flea bite is just a minor irritation. But if your cat is allergic to the proteins or antigens in flea saliva just a single bite could lead to a severe reaction resulting in intense itching. In many cases this will cause your cat to scratch relentlessly or chew their skin, removing large amounts of hair in the process. If your cat is allergic to flea bites you may also notice open sores or scabs on the skin, particularly at the base of the tail. These sores can result in secondary bacterial skin infections.
The best way to treat this allergy is to keep fleas well away from your pet. If your pet has fleas, speak to your vet about various flea control products and how to rid your cat of fleas. Corticosteroids (cortisone or steroids) can be prescribed by your vet to help block the allergic reaction and give your cat immediate relief from itchiness. Antibiotics may be required if your cat has a secondary skin infection due to scratching.
Food Allergies & Sensitivities
Food allergies in cats are caused by an immune reaction to an ingredient or an additive in their food. Common food allergies for cats include chicken, turkey, and beef. Some vegetable proteins found in commercially produced cat foods may be problematic for some cats including corn and wheat, and for other cats, food additives and preservatives can lead to an allergic response. Food allergies can lead to itchy skin, digestive disorders, and respiratory distress.
For cats suspected of having a food allergy, an elimination or hypoallergenic diet is typically prescribed. These diets involve feeding your cat a diet consisting only of ingredients they have never previously eaten such as rabbit or venison and eliminating their regular food completely. To be effective these diets must be adhered to strictly. No cat treats (unless approved as part of the diet), and no sneaking any table scraps. Elimination diets must be adhered to for between 9-12 weeks in order to give your cat's body time to eliminate all traces of the problematic ingredient and start the recovery process.
Inhalant & Atopy Allergies
Inhalant and atopy allergies are those related to substances found in the environment such as ragweed, pollen, mold, dust mites, and pollutants such as cigarette smoke. In cats, reactions to these allergins can include severe itching across the body. It is common for cats with these allergies to be allergic to more than one substance so it can take patience to pinpoint the precise cause. While in many cases these allergies are seasonal much like hayfever in people, in other cases itching may be present year-round.
Treatment for these allergies largely depends on the severity of the allergy and whether it is seasonal. A hypoallergenic diet can be helpful in relieving symptoms and treatments can include:
- Corticosteroids (prednisone)
- Sprays and shampoos to improve the health of the skin
- Essential fatty acids/fish oils
- Immunosuppressive drug therapy
- Antigen injections/allergy shots
Ongoing Treatment for Cats with Skin Allergies
Patience is important when it comes to treating skin allergies in cats. The treatments will take some time to take effect and are typically not appropriate for sudden flareups. Your vet will provide you with treatments for acute symptoms and for the long-term management of the condition.
Another important thing to note is that while treatment can help to control and relieve your cat's symptoms, only preventing your cat from coming in contact with the allergin will cure the problem. This means that while your cat may live symptom-free for long periods of time, symptoms will likely recur periodically. Your vet will be able to help you and your cat deal with allergic reactions whenever they appear.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets, or search and rescue advice for pets. If you have lost your cat contact veterinarians and animal shelters in your area for help in your search for your missing cat.